Mary Arlington 'Carries Sunshine in Her Pocket'
When we began planning our Boulder vacation, I told Dave that I wanted to stop in Oakley (Kan.) to meet Mary Arlington.
Mary owns High Plains Camping, an overnight RV park located at Exit 70 on I-70.
She and I have been Facebook friends for about a year and she’s delightful. Slender and energetic, Mary carries sunshine in her pocket.
During the warm months, she seldom leaves her RV park. She’s the desk clerk, bookkeeper, janitor, and she works on renovations, all without losing sight of her mission: to provide an oasis for guests.
So over the past year I’ve followed Mary and High Plains Camping on the Internet. Last winter, she showed photos of snow creeping up the ankles of a yellow giraffe, the park’s climbing feature for kids. In the springtime, I saw pictures of her newly painted merry-go-round.
Most of her guests are overnighters, RV travelers or tent-campers, on their way to someplace else. But the goal Mary and John Arlington set out to accomplish when they bought the park nine years ago was to make that traveler’s night-along-the-way an optimal and memorable experience.
While scouting for a park to purchase, Mary and John, who had been living in Ohio, spent a year traveling the country in an RV themselves. In 2002, they bought the property in Oakley.
“He wanted to buy an RV park,” Mary said of her husband. “It had been his early-retirement dream.” They considered various types of RV parks: destination, lakeside and overnight campgrounds. “And what we felt were underserved were the overnight parks. Overnight camping lacked personality and character and we wanted to create a park to make the whole trip enjoyable.”
When Dave and I stopped in Oakley, Mary gave us a tour. Restrooms and showers were spacious and sparkling. The laundry room was pleasant and clean and had a jigsaw puzzle in progress on a table.
As we walked across the 18-hole miniature golf course which was updated this spring, Mary pointed out the soccer net and water-spray stations for kids, and three hot tubs for the grown-ups. For four-legged guests, a large and grassy fenced-in dog space is available.
During her ownership, a barn on the property has been straightened and painted. Campers can hang out in the barn on rainy or windy days. “The park has Wi-Fi,” she said, “and they can bring their laptops in here.”
The park’s U-pick organic garden is in its third season and has been a big hit with the guests. In the well-stocked store, guests can purchase a variety of items a traveler might need or want. DVDs may be borrowed; a book-swap shelf is available.
In addition to the time commitment and physical labor involved in maintaining the park, Mary has faced numerous and heartbreaking challenges since she came to Kansas. A year after they purchased the park and began renovations, her beloved husband died of a fast-spreading cancer.
“If that trial wasn’t enough, the trials ahead of me were beyond any I could have predicted,” Mary wrote in an e-mail last winter. “Had I known then what I know now, I’d have thrown in the towel on the day he died, but I also would’ve missed God’s most glorious work.”
“I’ve suffered several significant illnesses, massive financial strains, enormous (and repeated) hail damage, lightning strikes, chauvinism, damaging winds, intense droughts, blizzards that brought about three weeks of hell, and structure-moving microbursts.”
But Mary persevered and has turned her place into an award-winning camping resort. High Plains Camping has an A+ rating from guestrated.com. In 2010, she affiliated with Best Parks in America which invites only the highest-rated campgrounds to join. Online reviews are very kind and they rave about Mary’s hospitality, the well-planned park and its cleanliness, the organic garden, the store.
“There’s so much to (a park owner’s) life that the customers don’t see,” Mary said. “The amount of work is something else, but the reward of their rejuvenation is worth it. And the way they reward me, by thanking me and by their praise, the weariness just rolls off of me and I can go to bed with a ‘wow.’”